Source: Harlequins

PWR – Saturday and Sunday

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Exeter Chiefs v Harlequins
Saturday 24 February

A game that showed the PWR at its best. No quarter given, each side having to work hard to exploit possession.

Quins opened their account first: a rolling maul that didn’t seem to be rolling anywhere, then Connie Powell suddenly shot out of it like toothpaste from its tube, to cross unopposed. Ella Cromack’s fine conversion attempt struck a post and stayed out. 0-5

In no time a series of powerful Chiefs thrusts, started by the impressive Maisy Allen, ended with DaLeaka Menin inviting several defenders to step out of her way. 7-5

Chiefs’ next score was a picture. Katie Buchanan, another youngster to have caught the attention of the people who matter, evaded her opponent in the tightest space, acclerated, then gave an inside pass to her opposite winger, Claudia Macdonald. She cut infield, stepped past the last defender as if she was a stone plinth, and was over. Worth ten points. 14-5

The sequence that followed may explain why Chiefs aren’t at the top of the table: a pass back behind a ruck led to a fumble. The referee awarded a penalty to Quins, then a further 10 metres for back-chat. Powell’s accurate throw-in brought a drive and a try to Babalwa Latsha. Even worse, Emily Tuttosi was found guilty of every referee’s favourite crime, pulling the maul down. As if to atone for their sins,

Chiefs put together some demanding phases, but Quins just managed to hold them out.

Half-time: 14-12

Kildunne lit up the opening stages of the second half; she jinked her way past defenders, then hoisted a low kick that meandered into touch close to the home line.

Note to England’s 6 Nations opponents: you can expect lots of little kicks into space behind you.

Macdonald had just produced another beauty that caused Quins a heap of bother. Ah, you’ve spotted it already!

It was very pleasing to see some of the younger members of England’s training squad playing so well, Buchanan, Cromack and Brooke Bradley in particular. By contrast, Ellie Kildunne twice failed to drop-kick the ball ten metres; indeed her second attempt registered around -1 metre. But she was still central to Quins’ attack.

Now another warning for every rugby team: a powerful scrum can lead to disaster. As Chiefs drove the Quins pack back a few miles, Shaunagh Brown managed to retrieve the ball. It was shipped fast to the blind-side wing, where Heather Cowell, suddenly released by GB Sevens and only just off the bench, sped past despairing arms to score a dramatic try in the right corner. Cromack earned her corn with a great kick three metres from the near touchline. Suddenly the board read 14-19!

It was ironic to find Chiefs incurring the ref’s displeasure more and more. That had been Quins’ bugbear across the season.

The next ten minutes were curious. Quins played a sensible possession game, forcing Chiefs into endless tackles. But the moment Emily Scott hoisted a deep diagonal kick, it gave the opposition the chance they needed. They built with equal care, but finally sent the ball wide to Buchanan. She had a tricky pass to take, but managed to hang on and flopped over the line for what would prove to be the final score of the game. Gaby Cantorna was faced with a kick very similar to Cromack’s. Till now she had a 100% record, but this one stayed out.

Chiefs went on incurring penalties, Lagi Tuima penning thwm bacl close to their line. But the Quins pack twice failed to motor a maul over the line. They hammered relentlessly, but finally Chiefs’ resilience paid off with a penalty.

So our very first draw of the season, and quite a thriller.

On balance Quins must feel more satisfied. They were the away team, and needed to put in a performance against a top team to regain self-confidence. Exeter can see this game only as another lost opportunity.

Result: Exeter Chiefs 19 Harlequins 19

Referee: Charlie Gayther
ARs: James Pidding and James Cornell

Sale Sharks v Gloucester-Hartpury Sunday 25 February

G-H gained their expected victory, but Sale showed guts in fighting tio the end. The three tries they scored indicate again that G-H’s priorities are not laid on defence. That is traditionally the starting-point for champion sides. G-H’s approach is what used to be known as the West Ham method: ‘You score three goals? Right, we’ll score four!’ It ensures entertaining viewing for the impartial spectator, less so for the committed.

They do have seven England-contracted players at their disposal – one more than Saracens in second place – plus any number of NEQP internationals, so you might wonder whether their line should ever be crossed, least of all by a side that has won one single game all season.

Georgie Perris-Redding is the captain and heartbeat of the Cheshire side, and she opened their account after Pip Hendy’s early try. A conversion meant that the hosts led for a short while, 7-5, but it wasn’t to last for long.

Kelsey Jones, Maud Muir, and Sarah Beckett (safely reunited with one of her boots), made sure the bonus point was in the bag before the break (7-29). Sharks’ return after the break, 12 points against 14, is highly creditable. But we have yet to find a solution to the North-South divide, which now looks like a mountain gorge.

Hollie Bawden and Eti Haungatau scored Sharks’ other tries. An awful lot rests on Beatrice Rigoni’s shoulders these days, but that’s probably how she likes things to be.

G-H will be tested again next week when they face Exeter, but the result above (19-all) points to doubts about the Chiefs’ abilities to put sides away as they used to.

For Sale it’s another trial, away to Loughborough. Lightning still find winning a tricky operation, but now that Emily Scarratt has brushed the cobwebs off, they may discover more of their old fluency.

Result: Sale Sharks 19 Gloucester-Hartpury 43

Referee: Andy Wigley
ARs: Ian Bibey and Simon Adams

Table                          P​       W​      D      L​      Pts

Glos-Pury         ​​       11      11    0       0       54
Saracens                  10      9      0 ​     1        45
Exeter​​​                      11       7       1      3        40
Bears       ​​                 11      7       0      4        36
Harlequins  ​​           11      3       1      7         22
Lightning                10      4      0       6        22
​Trailfinders      ​​​      10      3       0       7        18
Tigers​​​                      11       2       0       9         8
Sale         ​​                 11       1       0      10         3

NB Both Tigers and Sharks docked 5 points. A chasm is opening up at both ends of the table: 14 points between 1st and 3rd; 14 points between 7th and 9th. Deduction: no matter how hard and skilfully a side fights, if it loses, the points mount up against it; not even bonus points can rectify the matter. Time for a return to the 4-point try?

Reminder – Friday Results:
Leicester Tigers 14 Trailfinders 29
Bristol Bears 33 Loughborough Lightning 17